Get Out of the Four Walls of Your Church

Get Out of the Four Walls of Your Church January 11, 2011

The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

Over the years I have become increasingly convinced that serving alongside individuals that are different than you is necessary for reconciliation to come about. A couple years after finishing college, I signed up with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps to live, travel, and serve with a team of complete strangers for ten months. We all came from varying places as far as geographical locations, faith perspectives, socio-economic status, personalities, etc. and we had to learn to work with one another. In starting to serve with one another, we had to work on developing healthy interpersonal relationships and positive team dynamics in order to be effective in the projects we found ourselves in. Our work put us in close proximity with one another and that helped to enable communication while our common goals and mission helped to band us together in the name of something larger than ourselves. Although we may not have gotten along all the time, the work helped us to learn to care for and develop a mutual respect with those on our team.

Along the sames lines, we in the Church that have a desire to build bridges with the LGBT community have got to go beyond the four walls of our churches and into their community, in the respective capacity that is afforded to each of us to start to serve alongside those in the community. It can become easy to get caught up in the discussions/debates and end up getting frustrated, hence the need to seek out and pursue common values and goals that can lead to bringing about positive change in our communities. In the process of bringing about positive change, there is the possibility that walls can start to come down and we will no longer see those that are different than ourselves as an ‘other’ as our journeys become interwoven and we start to develop a mutual respect for and trust with one another. The understanding and respect that we slowly develop in those contexts will naturally lend themselves to discussions about faith and difficult conversations within our churches when they come up.

It is not only important that we serve, but we must be careful in how we go about serving. I believe that we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and meet the LGBT community on their turf and their conditions. The attractional church model that says “come to us and see what we’re doing,” can be intimidating for individuals that are weary of the Church in the first place. But instead, going to the community and asking how we can partner with what they are already doing can help to develop a teachable and humble spirit in us that helps to avoid the knight in shining armor mentality. Then if we do have any suggestions in the future, they will at least be grounded in experience with and knowledge of the community we are serving. This desire to learn and serve instead of being eager to tell others how they should go about solving the problems in their own community is a way that individuals in the Church can start to gain back our near complete lack of credibility in the LGBT community while living out our faith in an incarnational manner.

Much love.

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  • Damn, that’s really good!

  • Kevin Harris

    haha…..Thanks Brian!

  • Sam

    Great post!

    My wife and I joined a gay dance club many years ago, not because we’re trying to convert anyone, but because we like the club members and enjoy getting to know them. We enjoy parties at our gay friends homes, and usually invite gay friends to most events we have at our home.

    Getting to know people, especially on their own turf, often gives us a much different idea of who they really are. Some religious people I know who are very anti-gay tell me they don’t know any gay people. (They do, but just don’t realize it. I know gay people in their churches. The religious people just haven’t figured out that these people are gay.) All of their information about gay people comes from Focus on the Family, the proponents of Prop 8, Concerned Women for America and ex-gay “ministries”. (Editorial: Spend your money on a “fat farm” – at least that might work).

    Our church doesn’t have four walls. It has many walls, and often no walls. Our church is the network of followers of Jesus who we know. One little group that we meet with meets in cafes, in parks and in the street. We include “whomsoever”. But our church also includes other followers of Jesus. When we invite our neighbors and gay friends to our house for food and talk, that is one way our church meets. (Often there are followers of Jesus present in addition to the two of us.)

    I know that this understanding of church is extremely threatening to those who make their living from the traditional model. They will argue, as my mother would say “until the cows come home” that they way they “do” church is the right/Scriptural/only/best way to do it. I’m sure that’s why so many are abandoning that way, including thousands of pastors every year. The pastors who have left usually have a much different perspective.

    The four walls work for some. Great! But they don’t work for many, even for a couple of hours one day a week. Surely, though, even those who love the four walls have noticed that most of their community is not there. It can be a real eye-opener to venture onto their turf.

  • jJoniJJ

    Sam, this is such a sensible post. You’re right if we sense that a straight person is homophobic or if they make the mistake saying that they are Christian when you first meet them, we are very adept at simply not disclosing our sexual orientation. Christian coming out of the mouth of a straight person at some secular type event–say Chamber of Commerce or networking… well… But it makes perfect sense to hang out and socialize, and also have many lesbians and gays at your house. We have neighorhood little drop in holiday parties every year–nothing fancy, just some good food, about 15 neighbors. We’re a lesbian couple active in our little community–its liberal (lots of NO on Prop 8 signs in yards and bumper stickers from straight liberal friends). But we do notice that when just two lesbian couples are in the room, the power dynamics shift. Suddenly the jokes that straight people might tell fall on deaf ears. There is a shift. No arguments, just a shift that straight isn’t the only way.
    SO thanks for doing all you do. We could always use good nice people like you. And well, gays do have the best parties 🙂

  • Kevin,
    Please tell me you’ve read “Friendship at the Margins”. If you haven’t, you need to get your hands on it asap. This post sounds strikingly like the principles contained in that book. I love it! What a great perspective! Thanks for sharing!

    • Kevin Harris

      It has been on my list to read for a while, and considering that it was Andrew’s favorite book last year and I consistently love about everything I hear from Chris Heuertz I need to read it this month.

  • Sam

    Yeah, gays do have the best parties – the best food, the best decor, the friendliest people. Straight Christians should attend a few and get some pointers on how to throw great parties for their friends and neighbors.

    We don’t self-identify as “Christian” to anyone, since that term carries a lot of baggage that does not identify who we are. We love our friends – gay or not. We wouldn’t think of asking someone “Why did God make you short?” any more than we would ask someone “Why did God create you gay?” We don’t go around announcing our orientation or that we follow Jesus. Most people usually figure out these things, and often ask about the Jesus part (and sometimes the orientation part).

    One of the greatest compliments we probably ever received was one time when we were in a room full of LGBT people. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but one friend who has written a regular column for a couple of local LGBT publications for years loudly exclaimed “You can’t be Christian! They hate us, but you love us!”

    We really do know that is not a fair characterization of all Christians. However, for many of our gay friends, we are the only Christians they know who completely accept and love them. I don’t remember ever initiating a “spiritual”conversation with gay friends, but often they initiate one with us. Our gay friends definitely are spiritual, and some also follow Jesus.

    Some of our best friends are lesbians. We consider it an honor and privilege to know them and to be their friends. Peace to you and your partner on your journey.

  • pm

    Kevin, great post! And again, you’ve shared another wonderful way for building relationships! Thanks.